Will 2016 mark the end of test centers?

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

The Internet is causing disruptive change in many industries. When I was a child, we had a bookshelf full of encyclopaedias, nowadays my children can find out much more than was ever in these large books on Google or Wikipedia. This is just one of many disruptions the Internet has brought.

Building being demolishedCurrently many high-stakes exams are taken at “bricks and mortar” test centers. Participants need to travel to a test center to take the exam, often having to journey a considerable distance; tests need to be scheduled for a fixed slot in advance; and participants or their employer must pay a substantial fee for use of the test center. Increasingly, the Internet is allowing a new dynamic, with participants taking tests at their offices or homes, with a remote, online proctor ensuring integrity.

So will the Internet take another scalp? Will 2016 be the year that test centers for high stakes tests and exams start to disappear? Will there even be bulldozers demolishing test centers or re-purposing them for other tasks?

Interested in learning more about online proctoring? I will be presenting a session on Ensuring Exam Integrity with Online Proctoring at the Questionmark Conference 2016: Shaping the Future of Assessment in Miami, April 12-15. I look forward to seeing you there! Click here to register and learn more about this important learning event. 

It may be a while before the bulldozers move in, but as shown in my previous post Online or test center proctoring: Which is best?, there are many advantages of online proctoring. Questionmark exams can be delivered both at test centers and via online proctoring, but I am increasingly coming to believe that online proctoring is the future for high stakes exams.

The benefit to the participant of not having to travel to a test center and being able to take the exam in a flexible timeslot is immense. To illustrate this, here is a quote from an independent blog entry by a candidate describing his experience taking an SAP certification exam in 2015:

“I was able to take my test from my home office. This is such a big improvement because I did not have to drive to a test centre which in my case is far away and where I can only take the test on specific days in the year.”

The main reason that organizations use test centers is that it feels more secure. But as I suggested in Online or test center proctoring: Which is more secure?, there are arguments on both sides for security, and most organizations probably use test centers rather than online proctoring because it’s what they have been doing for a long time, rather than necessarily because it is safer.

Undercover picture fromm BBC of test cheatingThere is a long history of security breaches at test centers, and some of the most flagrant happen due to proctors or invigilators helping participants pass the test. The BBC recently reported on several cases of cheating within construction industry exams at test centers in the UK – see here for a text summary and here for an excellent 13 minute video including undercover footage of the cheating. In one case, a proctor took the exam for the participant; in another case, a roomful of people were taking the exam and someone was showing the answers on a large screen at the front of the room (see picture to the right); and in a third case, participants answered the exam but didn’t submit, and the proctor reviewed and improved the answers before submitting.

This is just one of many, many examples. When participants see a financial benefit to passing a high stakes test, there are challenges in maintaining the integrity of a face-to-face proctoring system. It’s not impossible for online proctors to be corrupt, but when separated by distance, it is much harder.

The testing industry is very conservative. There will still be exams taken in test centers for many years to come. But I do think that 2016 may well be the beginning of the end for “bricks and mortar” test centers — and that during 2016, the mainstream view will start to think that online proctoring is the future.

Interested in learning more about online proctoring? I will be presenting a session on Ensuring Exam Integrity with Online Proctoring at the Questionmark Conference 2016: Shaping the Future of Assessment in Miami, April 12-15. I look forward to seeing you there! Click here to register and learn more about this important learning event. 

For more on online proctoring, check out this informational page and video below:

One Response to “Will 2016 mark the end of test centers?”

  1. Thoughtful and well written. Happy holidays!

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